“Are you safe in India?”
If you come to India often, you probably get this question a lot.
My impulse answer is usually, “Yes, things are unbelievably safe here.” I can send my wife and kids on a train, knowing the other passengers (complete strangers up to that moment) will take good care of them. My wife can go out on her own in the evening without much worry. In Mumbai, Reader’s Digest recently left 12 wallets with about Rs. 3,000 each on the streets to see how many would be returned. Our Mumbaikars returned 9 of them (2nd most in the word).
Yet, there are still authentic reports of petty crime, rape, corruption, and mob violence that are at least enough to make relatives worry. (This article discusses crimes done by a human intending to harm you. If you are looking for staying healthy in India, see the link.)
Many factors affect your safety in India. Men have very few concerns, whereas women need to be more cautious. The region of India you live in can make a big difference. For example, I would not be as comfortable with my wife going out on her own in Delhi as opposed to Chennai. Travelling with children actually endears you more and makes you less likely to be the target of a serious crime.
Here’s a quick, common sense approach to safety
If you follow these guidelines, you will likely have no issues in India:
- Get as many trustworthy Indian friends as you can as soon as possible.
- Get a mobile phone and carry it with you all the time.
- Avoid situations where you might run into a group of drunk or angry men: late nights, large festivals, melas, 1km radius of a liquor shop, political rallies, etc.
- Travel with friends. Even if you are more of the solo type, travelling with even a small group dramatically improves your safety.
- Money is less important than your safety. If you are in a situation where a few hundred rupees will extinguish the situation, give it and move on.
Specific Safety Concerns
- Be more aware when you are in very crowded areas; keep your belongings close
- Don’t travel with a lot of cash on you
- Keep backup copies of all of your important documents somewhere different from the originals
- Establish a good relationship with any househelp before leaving them alone in the house
- Keep your door locked at night
- Book rooms in advance
- Be very cautious about staying anywhere that charges less than Rs. 1000 per night
- On trains, make friends with people around you and don’t leave valuables unattended when the train has stopped at a station
- Insist on wearing a helmet if you are riding on a two-wheeler
- In a taxi, if you feel uncomfortable with a driver, say something; if he does not immediately change, have him pull over and pay him a fair amount
- Use prepaid taxis to avoid arguing about a bill after a ride is over. Taxi booking apps like Uber and Ola can create a cashless experience and have SOS features.
Specific Areas to Avoid
- Anywhere close to the Pakistan border
- The state of Jammu & Kashmir has a continuous military presence along the border with Pakistan. This area is beautiful, but not a place you should venture to alone.
- Manipur in northeast India has seen a lot of riots lately
- Some interior areas in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh have active Maoist and Naxalite groups that are dangerous
Specific Tips for Women’s Safety in India
- The majority of Indian men have no category for a woman who is ‘just a friend’. Either you are a family member, or you are looking for something more. Be very clear up front with any man you spend time with that you consider them a brother. They will get the hint very clearly and look after you from that point on.
- Outside of the office, avoid initiating contact with a man (hugs, kisses on the cheek, hand on the back)
- Make use of ‘Women’s only’ sections of trains and buses
- Don’t return a stare in hopes of intimidating someone. The effect is often the opposite.
- You will nearly never be touched ‘accidentally’ by someone out in public. If you feel someone touched you, don’t ignore it but draw attention to it with other people around. Public shaming goes a long way here.
- Dress modestly
How to report a crime
If you find you are the victim of a crime and need immediate assistance, call a friend first. If no one is near, make use of the emergency numbers in India (100, 101, 102, 108). Each number is supposed to direct you to a different service, but they should all be able to help.
You may need the help of the police to report a crime. If you go to the local police station, they will ask you to fill out an FIR (First Information Report).
What do you think? Is India safe for foreigners? Leave your thoughts below on other tips or good stories about safety.
Image Credit: Maria Martinez on Flickr